Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem
At times, life throws you things that you don’t quite know how to deal with. Sometimes you don’t quite know what to do with the lemons. Like a rainbow in the midst of winter … Or sunshine on a rainy day… Sometimes life is not quite what you expect. And, as we stood staring at her for at least a minute, we weren’t quite sure of what to do. Our minds lost any form of comprehensive thought for a while before we realised that something needed to be said.
The silence was deafening,
“What do you want?”
It was Ahmed who spoke first. My elder brother was firm as he said it, and his brow furrowed into a frown.
Indeed. What on earth did Aunty Nas want from us now?
“Don’t talk to me like that,” she said, her eyes blinking furiously. “I didn’t do anything to you!”
Goodness. The woman was still the same.
She was talking about Ahmed specifically of course. Out of the four of us, it was Ahmed who had received the least slack. It could have been because he was a male. It could have also been because in appearance, Ahmed mostly resembled Abba.
His solid jaw, olive skin and aesthetically pleasing face was growing to look more like Abba every day.
“You didn’t do any good for us either!” Retorted Ahmed, fiercely thrusting himself forward as he spoke. He was tall and looked quite threatening. I dare say he was even taller than Abba now.
“You father would probably give you a hiding if he saw this,” she snapped. “Where is he? I tried phoning him and he is not answering. I need to speak to him.”
I looked at her, amazed at her audacity. After everything, she still had a nerve. She still felt that she had a right to demand my father’s time and attention. As far as we knew, my father had divorced her. She had no right over him.
“My father,” Ahmed said, with a glint of heated humour in his eye. He rolled his eyes at Aunty Nas, stepped away from the door, and slammed it in her face. He turned the key, ignoring the incessant banging.
“Go away, or we will call the cops,” he shouted to her, turning around and pulling a blue tie around his collar to fix it expertly.
I was hoping he would have worn something less fancy, but like Abba, Ahmed loved to dress up. He was at that age where looking good and acting all macho was important to him. He admired himself in the mirror, fixing his straightened hair methodically. All this time, as everyone gathered near the staircase, Ahmed ignored the calls from outside. Yunus came down wearing a white Kurta. At least my younger brother listened to me when I told him to dress Islamically for the Nikah.
“She better stop, or I’m probably going to shoot her,” he muttered, rolling his eyes.
I gave him a look. I knew that he was annoyed, but what good will it do if we treated her with the same kind of hospitality as she had given us. Would it even make us feel better?
It wasn’t the morals that we were brought up with.
Hadhrat ‘Umar (RA) was reported to have said said: “There is no better punishment for the person who sinned by being bad to you, than your obeying Allaah by being good to him in return.” (Tafseer Ibn Katheer).
The pounding at the front door had ceased, but instead there was a weird sound coming from the doorstep. It was a continuous mauling that was beginning to irritate my ears.
It took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn’t the cat making that sound. The shrill noise coming from the front patio was Aunty Nas… and she was crying. Not just sobbing… the woman was howling her eyes out.
“Ahmed, open the door.”
It was Zuleikha who said it as she came down the stairs. Her face was drawn with worry and slight frustration, but there was a sympathy that was hidden beneath it all.
Ahmed raised his eyebrows at her and stepped away from the door.
“Be my guest,” he said in a flat voice, shrugging his shoulders indifferently.
We all watched as Zuleikha, in her bridal gear and beautifully made up face, make her way down the last lot of stairs and reached for the door handle. She unlatched the top and turned it, pulling the door open almost in slow motion. As the draft from outside made its way in, the open door revealing a broken women too, crumpled on the floor.
My heart almost stirred as I saw it, but then I remembered… then I remembered everything. Her evil cackle and condescending gaze. Her accusing voice… the time she had twisted my ear with contempt.
She wasn’t worth feeling sorry for, I convinced myself.
Voices were raised and comments were hurled at each other on the next few minutes, whilst Zuleikha came to the bottom of Aunty Nas’s visit.
Why was she here? What did she want? Why should we even listen to what she has to say?
Rehab. It was the place she had come from and now she wanted our help. She wanted us to help her with Hannah. She needed a good place for her to stay. Her husband too had been involved in drugs. Besides that, there was another complication.
“He never loved her,” Aunty Nas moaned now, her shoulder slumped and her defensive demeanour completely dissolving. She was slowly unraveling the layers that had made her the ferocious and hard-hearted step-mother that we knew.
I frowned now. Being silent all this time was the best thing for me. I didn’t want to put my foot in it by saying something that could incriminate me again. What if this was all a big put-on?
And then she slowly told us a story about how she had lost Hannah’s twin brother. He had drowned in a pool, and everyone blamed her. Since he had died, Hannah had gotten little attention or time from her father. They wanted a son to ‘carry’ the family name. It was ridiculous.
“That’s why your father married me,” she finally said. “He wanted to help me. He was a good man.”
I blinked, quite shocked that this person who was some type of dragon could actually utter kind words. Her story, if it was true, actually explained a little of Hannah’s behavior. It might be a bit late but her mother wanted something different for her now.
The moments dragged as they deliberated and contemplated. Finally, Ahmed had had enough.
“I have to go,” he said. “It’s nearly time for the Nikah. Will you’ll be okay?”
He was looking at me, and I understood what he was saying. Would I be able to hold the show down while he was gone? Right now, we couldn’t kick Aunty Nas out. Despite all the evil things, she had done… I wasn’t quite sure how to treat her.
I grabbed a walking stick of Dada’s and held it in my hand, just in case. I wasn’t taking any chances where Aunty Nas was concerned. She didn’t have a very good reputation.
I sighed and nodded, hoping she would leave soon. Foi Nani was also looking tired. All this was too much for her. She didn’t need to deal with so much of drama at this stage of her life. Our Mamajee, her son, was also going to be down in a few days. I heard her complaining to the aunty next door that she wanted to prepare for them as well, and she wasn’t getting down to it.
I found myself wishing for Abba’s presence once again, as Aunty Nas spoke. I supposed it was true that you only noticed the good things that people do when they weren’t around anymore. She seemed to hold my father in high esteem, praising him excessively. Although I recently found Abba falling short of my expectations, he had never deliberately hurt us. He kept his promises to Mama, and whilst she was alive, I didn’t remember them even having a single argument. Abba was a good man, after all.
I breathed in, trying to remember his once familiar face. It had become vague. It had been a while now. Almost four months. the pain had become consistent but bearable now, and when we heard about good things that Abba had done, or someone reminded us of his soft and generous nature, the yearning for him would grow once again.
It made me think. It made me understand. It wasn’t how much of money you had or what car you drove that mattered. It was the little things… and the small gestures that made you stand out. Abba wasn’t the most religious. He didn’t always do the right thing. But what stood out was his sterling character… and because he had that on his side, I was sure that Allah would help him. I hoped that it would be his salvation in the situation he was in.
My mind was working overtime now. Aunty Nas needed to leave, because I didn’t want to feel sad on what was supposed to be a happy occasion. I didnt want her to dampen everyone’s spirit. Zuleikha had convinced her to work on Hannah and try and make things work with her ex-husband. Frankly, she felt we had enough problems of our own to take on hers. I think she was right. The timing wasn’t great either… we had too much going on right now, and I think Aunty Bas knew that too.
I breathed a sigh of relief as she left that day, hoping she wouldn’t come back again. There were so many things that were on my mind now. About Aunty Nas. Hannah. Abba. It was too much for me to think of… too much for my mind to process. I needed to stop thinking.
Instead, I shifted my focus to Zuleikha now, as I watched her breathe, and silently adorn a little Alice band that would complete the final touch of her bridal hijab. My elder sister looked absolutely breath-taking in ivory and mint, and as the time neared, she sat and folded her knees inward on the carpet in the passage where the receiver was. Her breathing was steady.
She lifted her eyes ever so slightly when she finally heard voices through the speaker, and then lowered them almost immediately. I could sense her inner turmoil as I spotted her trembling hands. I could almost feel her anxiety, as the two of us sat, shoulder to shoulder, and waited for those weighty words. We listened carefully as the Nikah Khutbah began, and of course, the words that would bind her for life. That would raise her to another dimension completely, as the words of Nikah would finalize the union that she would have for life .
Though my sister sat with her head forward and her body still, I could see beyond the physical strength of her outer being. Her frazzled nerves were clearly apparent as she clenched and unclenched her first, with the whiteness of her knuckles startling me as they caught my eye.
Of course, as the sermon ended, with her head lowered, Zuleikha closed her eyes, and her heart poured out as they immediately filled with involuntary tears. Like a revelation of her soul, I caught a glimpse of what lay behind the armour that she had worn, and her true emotions became apparent. She had hidden them well but she couldn’t hold it in anymore. Hot tears flowed down her cheeks, and Zuleikha turned her face away, not wanting anyone to see. She couldn’t let this bring her down. Not today. The pain she wore was on her sleeve, and her heart too.
This too, was a test for her. A test for us all.
I hastily retreated to my room quietly, not able to bear it any longer. Instead, as an antidote, I busied myself with the adornment of the simple dress I had chosen for the occasion, and a matching hijab. I tied the hijab carefully and silently, gazing back at myself in the mirror. I saw a twelve-year-old girl with an enormous burden. Her shoulders were weighed down by its ferocity, and her eyes told the tales of their pain.
And then, I blinked, and looked again.
Her button nose, unruly locks and darkly draws eyes stared right at me. All I saw now was a little girl. A little girl with a little heart, that had been through a little too much.
Aa I gazed at her deep, dark eyes, I felt her within me. Her eyes were a window to her damaged soul. She was the girl with the lopsided smile and silent laugh. Her eyes were pleading…. she didn’t want this to hold her back any more. She stared at me, almost challenging me to reach for the stars. Almost beckoning me to endure… prompting me to rise above it all.
I blinked again, and averted my ears to hear car doors outside. With my heart in my mouth, I gazed out the window. The Nikah was over. I shouted out to Zuleikha to tell her that there were people here. The noise levels fluctuated as people spoke. Familiar faces came into view, and I pulled back, not wanting them to see me too.
I breathed out. I felt like everything had happened so fast. My sister was going to leave us already. Our foundation would be shaken, and we might struggle to find the balance once again. Zuleikha would make a new home, and we might feel like ours had been lost.
But after the storm is over, the sun may still find its way out. No, it wasn’t a fairy tale, but there was something very magical about what I had found within me that day.
The little girl with the world on her shoulders was no longer alone. Her heart was filled with a Power greater than anything else that this world contained. She didn’t need anything else.
When the heart was filled with Allah, then everything will fall into place.
Life happens. People die. Nothing lasts forever.
Eventually, everyone will leave and venture on their own path. Everyone has to at some stage. But there are treasures that we carry with us. The strength that each of us gain and carry will build us, and get us through, despite the storm. The hope that makes us believe that there will be a better day will always live inside of us, even if it’s buried in the innermost crux of our tarnished soul. Through a loss, maybe we could gain so much more. A reminder for the patient heart lies in time. In the ticking of the clock was both a comfort and a warning.
Although today was gone, the hope for a better day will still live on.
Authors Note: Apologies for the delay and if the posts have not been up to scratch. My brain has been too busy studying for exams. 🌼
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